Arkansas eyes 20th indoor title at NCAA meet
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Chris Bucknam isn't one to look back at Arkansas' 40 track and field national championships.
The Razorbacks coach wasn't around for those and would prefer to win his first.
Bucknam will have his best chance to do just that this weekend at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships as Arkansas looks to snap a seven-year indoor drought. The host Razorbacks have won an NCAA-best 19 indoor titles but none since 2006 under former coach John McDonnell.
Bucknam has kept Arkansas among the elite programs since taking over for McDonnell, who retired in 2008. The Razorbacks have won four of the last five Southeastern Conference indoor titles under their new coach, including a convincing win two weeks ago, but they have yet to win a national title.
Arkansas finished second to three-time defending champion Florida at last year's indoor championships, another close-but-not-quite finish for a school accustomed to dominating the track and field world.
If the lack of a national championship on his resume bothers Bucknam, he didn't show it Thursday when asked about the pressure of winning a national title in the post-McDonnell era.
"I haven't thought about that,'' Bucknam said.
And the potential relief if the top-ranked Razorbacks do, in fact, finally win this weekend?
"I haven't thought about that, either,'' Bucknam deadpanned.
While Bucknam downplayed the meaning of this weekend, there's no overlooking the ongoing rivalry between Southeastern Conference foes Arkansas and Florida.
The Gators won last year's national championship with 52 points, five more than the Razorbacks. Two weeks ago, Arkansas' Andrew Irwin cleared a career-best 18 feet 4 1/2 inches to win the pole vault at the SEC meet - helping the Razorbacks win their seventh conference indoor meet in the last eight years.
The conference wins, however, haven't translated to the national stage - where Florida coach Mike Holloway has led the Gators to three straight championships.
Holloway has high hopes once again this year. Sophomore Marquis Dendy had the best long jump in the world this year at that event with a leap of 27 feet, 3/4 inches, and he's expected to give Florida a boost again this weekend. Florida has eight fewer entries at the meet than Arkansas, prompting Holloway to joke Thursday that he might need to "kidnap'' some of the Razorbacks.
"Honestly, we have to take care of Florida,'' Holloway said. "Coach Bucknam and his staff have done a great job of assembling a great team, but I've got to take care of Florida. We've got to maximize our potential in the events that we're in.''
The third-ranked Arkansas women also won the SEC meet two weeks ago, using a win in the 1,600-meter relay to pull away from LSU for a five-point win. The win was the first for the Razorbacks women at the meet since 2003, but they'll face a difficult task this weekend against the top-ranked Tigers and No. 2 Kansas.
As for the men, all eyes are on Arkansas' hopes of snapping its seven-year national championship drought.
Just don't expect Bucknam to look anywhere but forward.
"It's a tough puzzle to put together, but we're just looking straight ahead, not looking behind us, and focusing on the process and the job at hand,'' Bucknam said. "It's been a lot of fun.''